By Medina Jackson, PA YouCAN Advocate
I am the parent of a 7 year old intelligent, ENERGETIC, curious, inquisitive, kinesthetic soon to be second grader. As a community educator, spoken word and Hip Hop artist, and blogger I am consistently asked to participate in a variety of educational efforts. When hearing about upcoming community engagement events, I’m the lady who always asks this tried and true question…”Will there be childcare at your event?”
Based on the answer to this question, I typically have three responses:
- If there is childcare, I get excited about attending and that event automatically hits my calendar.
- If there is no childcare, and because I don’t have many options for care when my son’s father is working or out of town, it becomes a calculus problem full of hypotheticals trying to figure out how to make everything work so I can attend. – – “Who can watch my son? Should I bring him? Are children allowed? Will there be food? I wonder if they’ll have any vegan options. Probably not. When will I have time to get him something to eat before I have to pick him up from his after-school program? Remember to charge his tablet so he’ll be “entertained,” instead of running everywhere. If not I’ll be chasing him around, and at that point, there’s no purpose in being there. Do I still have my headphones so he can wear those without his tablet disturbing everyone?” And the list goes on and on…
- If this is an event I REALLY want to go to, I try to figure out the challenges of #2. But on many occasions, the thought of #2 exhausts me to the point where I just resign myself to not attend.
In order to effectively connect parents to educational justice, advocacy and engagement endeavors, there are baseline considerations and supports necessary for parents to contribute. Childcare, or a structure that is family friendly, is often absent at many events, planning and community meetings, and conferences that seek to be inclusive of parents. How can a parent testify at a school board meeting, march at a rally, go to their state capitol to engage elected officials or productively participate in PTO meetings if there is no childcare? How can we elevate the voices of parents when there is this barrier? Accessible childcare options is an indicator of a vibrant community! For many families, no childcare means no access.
Regardless of race, parent education, income or background, family and community engagement in education correlates with higher student achievement outcomes. When parents/caregivers are actively present and contributing to educational efforts in their schools and communities, not only are there benefits for their children but entire movements can grow. If parents have a safe and reliable place for their children to go after school or in the evening, community organizations would have access to more human capital, intellectual and tangible resources, and be able to expand networks with the intentional incorporation of parent voice.
Inspired by personal experiences, anecdotal stories from parents and organizations seeking counsel for childcare resources, and seminal books like Beyond the Bake Sale, and Don’t Leave Your Friend Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities, the overarching goal of my project is to create a cultural and systemic shift in Pittsburgh of normalizing childcare provisions and family friendly structures in educational engagement, advocacy and social justice settings as best practice.
All educational spaces seeking parent engagement and participation should conceptualize, prioritize, plan and budget for childcare, or facilitate activities in a way that children are welcomed, included and centered in the space. The need for childcare at these activities is a fundamental support that crosses public, private, charter, and parochial school lines and is applicable no matter where your ideology or educational choices for your children lead you. The contribution of ideas, questions and suggestions from parents about the best course of action for their children is vital to any educational engagement, advocacy or social justice effort.
When parents are engaged, they not only bring themselves but their networks, increasing the possibilities of what can be.